The historic Texas Theatre prides itself on being one of the few movie houses in town that can still screen films in their original 35mm and even 16mm formats, but even this historic theater has to change with the times and that means making the jump to digital distribution.
Such an undertaking can be expensive. All the equipment that's needed to upgrade a theater to the digital age can cost thousands of dollars, and the Texas Theatre has a plan to raise the money they need so they can screen the films that they want for their patrons.
The Oak Cliff movie theater launched an online fundraising campaign on the crowd-sourcing website Seed&Spark to raise the $63,000 they need to bring a digital projection system to their screening room.
Barak Epstein, president of Aviation Cinemas, said the goal of the Texas Theatre has always been to present films in the way that filmmakers wished for them to be shown. The rise of digital media and distribution meant they knew they would have to make an upgrade down the line.
"It's been on the back of my mind for awhile on our list of things to do," Epstein said. "Since not too far after we reopened the theater a few years ago, we realized that digital cinema was coming down the pipeline but we made a decision to invest in analog only. So we put a lot into that to rebuild our room for 35mm film but eventually, we knew that we were going to have to add a DCP (digital camera package) so we could get prints whenever they are available and be more flexible with the movies we can get."
Epstein said most of the major indie film distributors have moved away from print film and that would limit their ability to offer a wide variety of films in the coming years.
"It's all about having some options open that we were previously limited with," Epstein said. "A lot of the small distributors like Magnolia, IFC, Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics have pretty much moved away from print and sometimes, they'll make films available in a non-DCP format. It's a crap shoot of whether we can book the film and get them to send it to us in another format."
A new DCP system can also cover multiple digital formats such as Blu-Ray and Quicktime, which would make it easier to screen more films from filmmakers who are taking their latest projects on the road. The DCP format is also becoming the preferred method of filming since it's much cheaper to use than physical film, Epstein said.
"You don't really know what the theater is going to have [when you're on tour]. It's the wild west of alternative format," Epstein said. "If a theater has one of these certified systems and you hand them a DCP, they are going to be able to play it."
The Seed&Spark campaign just got underway and the theater has 38 days left to reach their fundraising goal of $63,575. As of this writing, they've managed to raise just over $1,800. Some of the incentives for donors include free tickets to screenings and membership cards for the theater, hand-printed T-shirts, the chance to record a pre-screening "no talking or texting" PSA, VIP badges to the Oak Cliff Film Festival and private screenings at the theater.
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Epstein said there are many crowd-funding sites available but Seed&Spark seemed like the perfect fit for their project.
"It's specifically film-oriented," he said. "We really wanted to work with these guys. They're even going on tour and coming here on Oct. 23rd to do a free film workshop to teach crowdsourcing techniques."
Epstein said he's confident they'll be able to raise the money they need to upgrade the theater to the digital age and assured the fans that it would not replace the traditional 35mm projection process. It would just give filmmakers and the theater more opportunities for screenings.
"We want to be able to play it in the format that the filmmaker wants," he said.